Play is essential to the health and well-being of children. They learn through play. In addition, play:

  • promotes creativity, imagination and self-confidence
  • contributes to children’s physical health
  • builds social skills
  • provides fun and pleasure
  • contributes to building children’s capacities to negotiate, achieve emotional stability, resolve conflicts, and make decisions
  • enables children to explore the world around them, experiment with new ideas, roles, and experiences.

So, you can see that it is a very important part of children’s development. However, many children are denied the opportunity for play. Parents and teachers often fail to recognise the importance of play in children’s lives and view it as time being wasted. Many children with disabilities are denied any real chance for play as a result of discrimination, social exclusion and the physical barriers imposed by the environment. Girls, in particular, are denied chances to play because of the burden of domestic work that falls on them. Excessive formal demands on children’s time, whether through paid employment or long hours spent at school and doing homework, can also deny children the chance to play.

Activity 2.4: Understanding the factors that help or hinder children’s development

Think about the children in your local community and their opportunities for play. Then answer the following questions:

  1. Did you have a chance to play when you were a child?
  2. What attitudes do parents and teachers have towards play?
  3. Do their attitudes change as children get older?
  4. Do parents and teachers have different attitudes to play for girls and for boys?
  5. If so, why do you think that is?

Compare your answers with the discussion at the end.

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You might have decided to ask friends, neighbours and colleagues about their attitudes to play. It is likely that they would have been more sympathetic to the importance of play among very young children and less so as children get older.

In many communities there is also a much greater acceptance of boys playing – football, swimming, hanging around. There tend to be far more demands on girls’ time as they are expected to contribute to domestic chores and care for younger siblings. Boys are allowed more freedom and autonomy. In other communities, such as the pastoral communities, boys are expected to take on herding responsibilities at a young age, but they may be able to combine play with work.

The type of work girls are doing can make it harder for them to integrate play into their chores. However, play and recreation is just as important for girls. They need time to be with their peers, and to have opportunities to structure their own activities.

Play takes different forms as children grow older – they spend less time in imaginative games and using toys. However, free time when they can choose for themselves who to be with and what to do, or indeed to choose to do nothing, is a vital part of their development.

2.10 Respecting children’s capacities to participate